Transnational human rights and local activism: Mapping the middle

Sally Engle Merry

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    How do transnational ideas such as human rights approaches to violence against women become meaningful in local social settings? How do they move across the gap between a cosmopolitan awareness of human rights and local sociocultural understandings of gender and family? Intermediaries such as community leaders, nongovernmental organization participants, and social movement activists play a critical role in translating ideas from the global arena down and from local arenas up. These are people who understand both the worlds of transnational human rights and local cultural practices and who can look both ways. They are powerful in that they serve as knowledge brokers between culturally distinct social worlds, but they are also vulnerable to manipulation and subversion by states and communities. In this article, I theorize the process of translation and argue that anthropological analysis of translators helps to explain how human rights ideas and interventions circulate around the world and transform social life.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)38-51
    Number of pages14
    JournalAmerican Anthropologist
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Mar 2006


    • Globalization
    • Human rights
    • Legal anthropology
    • Translation
    • Transnationalism

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Anthropology
    • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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